The Ethics of Fibbing in Memory Care: When Bending the Truth is Best

The Ethics of Fibbing in Memory Care: When Bending the Truth is Best

“We are taught from early childhood that telling the truth is extremely important in life,” says Lonette Bentley, Executive Director of the newly-opened Clarity Pointe™ Pensacola. In elementary school, we learned about George Washington famously saying, ‘I cannot tell a lie’ and Benjamin Franklin stating that ‘Honesty is the best policy’. Throughout life, we have been reminded that being truthful is the moral and ethical way to conduct ourselves. But for at-home memory care providers who have a parent or spouse living with Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia, fibbing can sometimes be the best policy – or at least the most humane and caring one.”

Why? Because in providing memory care to a loved one, circumstances can arise where telling them the truth can be very disturbing and, in turn, harmful to their emotional state and overall health and well-being. A common example is asking where their now deceased spouse is.

Why “Fibbing” is Now Considered Caring and Therapeutic in Memory Care

Alzheimer’s expert and writer, Carrie Hill, PhD, explains how the thinking on total honesty in memory care has evolved over the years.

In her article, “My dad has Alzheimer's. Is it ever okay to lie to him if it calms him down?” Dr. Hill says, “Many years ago, it was thought that “reality orientation” should be used when Alzheimer's individuals became confused. In other words, if the person thought her parents were still alive, it was recommended that she be told the truth – that her parents were dead – in order to bring her back to reality. Obviously, this approach doesn't work, because it only upsets the person more. Alzheimer's affects the brain in such a way that trying to reason or use logic with the person no longer works. The bottom line is that if a white lie is the only way to make your loved one feel better in a particular situation, and it isn't hurting anyone, then you're helping your loved one by entering his world instead of forcing reality upon them.” 

Dr. Hill suggests that redirecting the conversation to another subject can also be effective. However, if that technique does not work, she asserts that “therapeutic fibbing” is an appropriate option. As she notes, an example of an appropriate fib would be to say that mom went to the grocery store and she’ll be back later.

Guidelines for Applying Therapeutic Fibbing in Memory Care

Aging and caregiving expert, Amy D'Aprix, PhD, offers some useful advice to family memory care providers as to when fibbing is appropriate. She says, “Therapeutic fibbing involves bending the truth to meet your family member in his or her current reality, where you can encourage behavior for his or her safety and well-being. While therapeutic fibbing isn't appropriate for every circumstance in memory care, when used correctly, it offers a much kinder, practical way to stop troubling behavior and reduce emotional distress. Who wouldn't do that for family?”

She and other memory care authorities provide the following list of useful tips and guidelines for using therapeutic fibbing with a loved one with memory loss:

  • Understand the Disease – Alzheimer's and dementia are degenerative diseases that destroy the brain and ability to process and store memories. People in later stages of these illnesses are often cognitively incapable of recognizing reality. Trying to force them to comprehend it may only lead to greater confusion, agitation and discomfort.
  • Safety and Well-Being are the Priority – Use therapeutic fibbing only when necessary to create safety, enhance quality of life and ensure your loved one's well-being
  • Change the Subject – Instead of upsetting your loved one with the truth, distract them by changing the subject.
  • Empathize and Validate their Feelings – Identify and respond to the emotion driving the behavior. For example, if your father refuses to go outside because he's assumed his 5-year-old self who fears the neighbor's dog, empathize with this fear. Assure him no harm will come while he's outdoors.
  • Mix It Up –View therapeutic fibbing as a technique to use in combination with other methods. It's not a cure-all for every Alzheimer's and dementia-related behavior.
  • Let It Be  If your loved one is peaceful and no immediate danger will result, there's no harm in letting them stay in their personal reality no matter how disconnected from the present.
  • Let Your Intuition Guide You – Remember, you know your loved one best. When it comes to easing tough moments, do what feels right.

“By incorporating therapeutic fibbing into their daily memory care routine, at-home caregivers can shelter their loved ones from harsh realities and protect them from unnecessary anxiety and emotional upset.” Lonette adds, “This serves to improve their quality of life and can also make the caregivers job a bit easier.”

Supporting At-Home Caregivers and Families with information and Guidance

At Clarity Pointe Pensacola, we recognize the many challenges at-home memory care caregivers face, and we’re always here to help. In addition to providing exceptional memory care for loved ones with memory loss, we also offer a variety of resources for families to help them meet the challenges of caring for a loved one with memory loss while continuing to have meaningful interactions and relationships.

You can also view Clarity Pointe’s valuable memory care articles and tips for at-home caregivers that address a variety of helpful topics that you can put to use today. We invite you to visit our website for ongoing updates and information.”

Clarity Pointe … Our Difference is Clear

Clarity Pointe’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.

Unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center, Clarity Pointe Pensacola offers three freestanding, purpose-built Memory Care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to Memory Care Assisted Living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals. 

We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in memory care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living, compassionate, respectful memory care and life-enriching activities that make each day meaningful.

For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and purposeful. 

To learn more about the Clarity Pointe Difference, contact us today!